Shikhar Dhawan: the “showman” turns showstopper

Shikhar Dhawan doesn’t just bat. He prowls. And when he is done , the man unfurls his arms wide. The viciously fluttering brilliant blue India jersey adorning his taut frame, the helmet and bat in either outstretched palm, all make for an immense sight.

His longer-than-long grin is arched by the now world famous moustache. Perspiring brows and beard brim with jet black vitality as if in a comity of their own.

With the imagery firmly set, the showman gazes skyward with those urgent-looking eyes; soaking the sunny spotlight from above. Moments later, he basks in the spectators’ delightful approval of his riveting effort thus far.

He then embraces his comrade and with a flourish, twirls his moustache and looks into nothingness with his vacillating ear-rings for company.

Dhawan puts on the helmet again, doubles up to the crease swiftly and it’s now time for him to face the next ball!

And after serenading the scant Pretoria crowd with a record-breaking 150-ball 248 a couple of days ago against South Africa A in a List A match, the showman had definitely turned showstopper!

Dhawan had a rousing start to a career that has careened before assuming sanity. He amassed 505 runs in the 2004 U-19 World Cup; a record which still stands as the most runs scored in a single World Cup in the U-19 category. Those were days when his batsmanship had a bit of showmanship to it; boisterous stroke making at the start of his innings which would more often than not pan out into tales of what-might-have-been on him getting dismissed.

He was keen to take the attack to the opposition, if his frequent inside out drives and blistering pulls would have us believe. Even with such valuable attributes, he could have been faulted for trying hard, too hard for comfort.

His U-19 World Cup form brimmed over into his maiden Ranji trophy season representing Delhi. Finishing as the team’s leading run-getter with 461 runs in his debut Ranji trophy assignment made him believe, after all, that his methods of trying and sometimes going too hard at it were correct.

And going too hard brought him quick results but drained him out. Over the next five years, he continued to be the mainstay for his Ranji team, scoring at a healthy near 45 average but he was fizzling out in a bid to accelerate hard!

Vijay Dahiya and Lalchand Rajput, two people who have watched Shikhar closely over the years, concurred that these were frugal returns for a player primed for greatness of the highest order. He helped Delhi to the title in the 2007-08 season with an aggregate of 570 runs but was constantly being lost to the oblivion that comes with plying your wares on the domestic cricket scene.

His ODI debut in 2010 didn’t really make people stop in their tracks to take note, but he was getting back on the right track to have a tilt at what was his he believed, an India cap !

A nothing-to-hit-home-about T20 debut followed in 2011.You could throw in a match winning half century just to call the entire situation better. But Dhawan didn’t just want to be better but wanted to be rubbing shoulders with the best.

During all those tenuous times in domestic cricket and roller-coaster displays in the IPL tourneys, the glint in his eye was clear and exigent. There was a longing, a desperation even, to be the best; yet the black of his eye seemed to shroud the failures that he chanced upon.

Come 14th March and the year 2013. Several parts of the world were celebrating this as the Pi day (14th March is 3/14 when written in month day format and is symbolic of 3.14, the Pi constant) while Dhawan was being handed his maiden Test cap from Sachin Tendulkar. The black and white of his eye were in perfect unison, as the Australians might have found at the end of the Test match.

Dhawan let his hair down on his Test debut and expressed himself to the fullest. The showman in him reflected in his innings which turned out to be the fastest Test hundred by any mortal on debut. His 187 off 174 was everything that Dhawan epitomises; power, panache and poignance.

There was power on view with those full-blooded drives against both seam and spin while panache showed from the skillful handling of the unfriendly Mohali pitch. And there was poignance at having delivered against all odds after years of toiling.

He wanted to score those 187 runs desperately but deep down he was silently ecstatic as he had done it the way he wanted to. Because it is not overnight that you start living on your own terms!

Dhawan was headstrong minus the gumption. He would cave-in too easily to tight spots and didn’t back himself to go the distance. That one good knock against the Aussies on Test debut changed all that and everything about the way he batted, thought, prepared and implemented.

From then on, he has been batting like a man possessed, as the Sunrisers Hyderabad and Team India went on to realise later. He helped Sunrisers reach the playoffs in their inaugural IPL season with some purposeful batting and fielding to boot.

His three ODI tons and two half centuries encompassing the Champions Trophy triumph, the Celkon Cup, the just concluded victorious Zimbabwe series followed by a record breaking 248 against South Africa A just a few days ago have made Dhawan a player to watch out for.

He can be seeing putting the fundamentals into place each time he is taking guard these days. The head is still while facing the ball right under his eye. This allows him to play the ball late and with increased assurance.

He is leaning into his front foot drives which allow him to make his rigid forward stride an asset. His drives, as a result, pack a punch and the timing is heavenly. The strokes square off the wicket have a measure of control when Dhawan plays them these days.

He backs himself to attack the pacy short stuff with poise previously unseen in him. His old adversaries of throwing away his wicket trying to slog after a few dot balls seemed to be laid to rest. His 114 against South Africa featured everything from short arm jabs and blistering drives to sizzling cuts and deft placements.

As a proof of the torrential form that he is enjoying, a stroke that he played in the series against Zimbabwe deserves special mention. He flicked an almost 90-miles-an-hour inswinging delivery from Jarvis over deep midwicket for the maximum; a shot high on the scale of difficulty. And this was no fluke by any means!

To play such a stroke like that you have to account for the swing and pace making sure you meet the ball just under your eye. Making sure you use the pace of the ball and not work against it is crucial. Dhawan sized all of this in a fraction of a second and essayed the superlative stroke with ease.

And such ease showed in his record breaking 248 the other day. Justin Ontong, the opposition skipper reckoned it to be one of the best limited over knocks he had ever witnessed. It’s one thing to hit a six and another to hit ‘em ten rows back into the stands as

Dhawan kept doing nonchalantly during his innings!

Now the record holder of the second highest individual List A one-day score, Dhawan has reinforced the fact that the rich vein of success he has enjoyed this year is no flash in the pan. He is putting a price on his wicket these days and is now a thinking cricketer making him more dangerous than ever before. It augurs well for India’s upcoming tour of South Africa with Dhawan raring to go full throttle.

The showman in him hasn’t died but is now a happy extension to his game. He would be well served not to get overwhelmed by the heady run he is having.

The show must go on, isn’t it showman?

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